The pen as timeless weapon | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Publisher Karina Bolasco and editor Jo-Ann Maglipon at the book launch
Publisher Karina Bolasco and editor Jo-Ann Maglipon at the book launch —PHOTOS BY NIÑO JESUS ORBETA
Publisher Karina Bolasco and editor Jo-Ann Maglipon at the book launch
Publisher Karina Bolasco and editor Jo-Ann Maglipon at the book launch —PHOTOS BY NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

The maxim that “The pen is mightier than the sword”—and is, by the way, also a weapon that can easily cost you your life, especially during a time of tyranny—is clear as day in the stories in “Serve,” edited by Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon (Bughaw, an imprint of the Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2023). Nineteen former members of the legendary College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) write down their memories from different perspectives, but just as important, also share where they have gone since the dark days of 1969 to 1972 (when martial law was declared, on Sept. 21) and beyond.

While the flashbacks are jarring—“What I experienced during the First Quarter Storm is difficult to erase from my memory,” says Sonny Coloma; “Our memories remain surprisingly and painfully sharp,” affirms Butch Dalisay—they have drawn from the pain of this shared history to do remarkable things.

Thus, for example, Dalisay, imprisoned for three months in 1973 for being a student activist, has gone on to publish more than 40 fiction and nonfiction books and screenplays, become a professor emeritus of English and creative writing at the University of the Philippines (UP), and is still at it as a biographer and columnist. Coloma is publisher and executive vice president of the Manila Bulletin, and served on the staff and cabinets of three presidents: Corazon Aquino, Joseph Estrada and Benigno Aquino Jr.

The CEGP was organized in 1931, when four university newspapers came together: UP’s Philippine Collegian, National University’s The National, the University of Santo Tomas’ The Varsitarian and Ateneo de Manila’s The Guidon.

Editor Maglipon acknowledged the quality of the writing gathered during her message at the book’s launch in September: “With truth in our grasp, we choose not to shout. At this age, we’ve taken on sophistications anyway that allow us to disguise our hysterics. If one day we feel wicked, we will shout and claw, but we cannot be perceived to be shouting and clawing. It’s the name of the game, and we pretty much know the rules.”

Ultimate victory

The book’s cover

In the prologue for “Serve,” Dalisay reveals that the book is the sequel to the 2012 volume published by the League of Editors for a Democratic Society (LEADS)–CEGP, also edited by Maglipon, “Not On Our Watch: Martial Law Really Happened. We Were There.”

He notes how the aforementioned “sophistications” have come with time and age: “With most of the writers here now in their 70s or inching close to it, we could have been chronicling the joys of grandparenting, journeys to far-off places, exotic menus, succulents and bromeliads and homeopathic remedies for the aches of aging … We celebrated our seniorhood as the ultimate victory for a generation that did not expect to live beyond 30 … And so—albeit no longer lean and shaggy-haired, perhaps benignly forgetful of car keys and personal anniversaries—we gather again at the barricades we put up against a fascist dictatorship 52 years ago …”

Each contributor tells their story differently. Thelma Sioson, who was on the staff of the Theresian Register, would become an accomplished lifestyle editor. The self-proclaimed colegiala writes a letter to her two adult sons, JJ and Gambe: “I don’t mean to underrate your daily struggles of traffic, slow deliveries, dead spots. Nonetheless, I don’t want to keep you from knowing that, in our time, our daily concern was who among our college mates or friends had disappeared into the night, never to be seen again.”

Senen Glorioso, editor in chief of The La Sallian in 1972, was president of CEGP in June 1972, and would go on to become a banker and real estate developer. Elso Cabangon was a writer and columnist for the University of the East’s The Dawn and the underground Southern Luzon paper Kalatas, and would later work in personnel management in Saudi Arabia, becoming a champion for OFWs. He recalls how he was shot on the way to a meeting of activists while walking on Taft Avenue: “Gunshots crackled. I felt something hot puncture my right thigh. I saw blood. Then my limbs gave way and I fell on the pavement. As I lay there, three more bullets tore at me one after the other.”

Jailed twice for being a student organizer at Ateneo and UP, Alexander Aquino has worked with OFWs and promoted social enterprises and human rights. He recalls being brought to “a maximum security compound that carried an innocuous name, Youth Rehabilitation Center (YRC),” after his arrest in February 1973, and spending time in isolation in an 8 by 10-foot bartolina cell.

Judy Taguiwalo, who had gone underground even before the declaration of martial law, was features editor of the Philippine Collegian in 1970-71 under Tony Tagamolila, one of the first student activists to be killed; she became a journalist, organizer, educator and Social Welfare Secretary in 2016–2017. Manuel Dayrit, a public health practitioner and community doctor since 1977, became Health Secretary in 2001–2005, worked with the World Health Organization in 2005–2012 and was former dean of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health.

Not angry

Derly Magcalen Fernandez was an educator and public administrator, but also writes in tribute to her friend Evelyn Pacheco, former editor of the Torch of the Philippine Normal College, who was killed alongside her husband Ricardo Mangulabnan. Fernandez’s piece includes touching words written by Evelyn’s daughter Earnest, who first learned of her parents’ death in 1977: “I was truly not angry at Nanay and Tatay. I felt I had no right to be. As young as 9 or 10 years old, I had gotten it into my head—How do I even compare myself to the cause of the country? … How could my feelings matter? How could my needs count? Ang ipinaglaban nila ay bansa. Sino ba naman ako?”

Eduardo Gonzalez was editor in chief of the Philippine Collegian in 1971, when the writ of habeas corpus was suspended. He worked in government, is an author, consultant and expert on public policy, and was president of the Development Academy of the Philippines. Rey Vea is an educator and chairman of iPeople, which runs several Yuchengco and Ayala schools, and was incarcerated for being a member of the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan in his youth.

The authors, editor and publisher of “Serve” remain defiant.
The authors, editor and publisher of “Serve” remain defiant.

Renowned journalist Jaime FlorCruz, who has worked for Time and CNN and is now Philippine ambassador to China, was later founding chairman of LEADS. He recalls experiencing police brutality during a 1970 student protest, which changed his “apolitical” outlook: “ … a police officer hit me on the head with his rifle butt … I spent the night in jail for allegedly ‘resisting arrest’ and ‘possessing deadly weapons’ … they had planted a knife in my jacket pocket.”

Chito Sta. Romana, who died in 2022, went to De La Salle and was spokesperson for the Movement for a Democratic Philippines. Stuck in China when martial law was declared, he became a journalist with the Washington Post and ABC News, and was ambassador to China in 2016. Bob Corrales was news editor of Mapua’s Avant-Garde in 1969-1970, and later became a businessman and worked in pastoral development with the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals. His wife Mercy was editor of Avant-Garde, and the two were forced to live underground during martial law with their newborn baby. Jones Campos was a student leader at St. Louis University in Baguio, who later became a PR professional and worked in telecommunications. He died in January.

Mosquito press

Sol Juvida was literary and news editor of Ang Malaya, the student paper of what would become the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. She worked with the pre-Edsa “mosquito press,” and was a pioneering writer with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. “The only thing you couldn’t do,” she recalls of reportage during martial law, “was to write what you knew.” Angie Tocong was editor of the student organ Malaya at the Philippine College of Commerce in 1971-72, and continues to work as a writer, editor, entrepreneur and advocate for children’s education.

Diwa Guinigundo was expelled from the Ateneo for being a student activist, moved to UP, and was arrested in 1976. He worked with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and later the International Monetary Fund, and became a doctor of divinity and a newspaper columnist.

As a break from the riveting text, the book is peppered with personal photographs as well as social realist artworks of the day by Pablo Baens Santos, Orlando Castillo, Edicio Dela Torre, Antipas Delotavo, Jose Tence Ruiz, Edgar Talusan Fernandez, BenCab, Danny Dalena and Leonilo Doloricon. Delotavo’s eloquent 1978 watercolor “Itak sa Puso ni Mang Juan,” showing a bowed man with a Coca-Cola sign as a backdrop, and with the curve of the letter “C” seemingly piercing his chest, was a statement against multinational dominance of local business during the time.

Maglipon made it clear in her message that these stories must be told and retold, especially for those with short memories—or who have no memory at all: “…We want to reach people outside our circles—they who flinch before the harsh details of our past, they who like the distance offered by concepts and contemplations, they who find refuge in intellectual fogginess, they who require space to process the ugliness on their own.”

The dedication of “Serve” says it most succinctly and poignantly: “We dedicate this book as well to the young Filipinos who dream of and fight for a just, free and equitably prosperous Philippines. We were once like you. We still are.”

Available at Fully Booked and online at;;; and [email protected].

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